Boston Celtics: Complete Eastern Conference Preview

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Mar 27, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Detroit Pistons guard Reggie Jackson (1) shoots over Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) during the second half at Amway Center. Detroit Pistons defeated the Orlando Magic 111-97. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando Magic

The Magic finished 25-57 last year, but head into this season with a new head coach, former Magic player Scott Skiles, and yet another lottery pick, Croatia’s Mario Hezonja (the 5th pick in 2015). The team’s last couple selections have fared well so far in their NBA careers. Victor Oladipo (the 2nd overall pick in 2013) increased his scoring to 18.1 points per game in his second season, and averaged over 4 rebounds and 4 assists as well. Elfrid Payton (the 10th pick last year) finished 4th in Rookie of the Year voting and led the team with 6.5 assists per game in his first season. Orlando also had the 4th pick in the 2014 draft and took Aaron Gordon. He missed a lot of his rookie campaign with injuries, but is set to return this year.

Clearly this team has potential, and Skiles is a hard-nosed coach who will push them. If all these lottery picks pan out Orlando could have a very strong roster 3-4 years down the line. I don’t see a huge jump this season, however. Having Gordon at full strength will help, but he’s still just 20 and Hezonja is only 20 as well. They’ll be fun to watch, with Payton zinging the ball over over the court and borderline All-Star Nikola Vučević racking up the double-doubles, but topping 30 wins will be a struggle.

Detroit Pistons

The Pistons have more proven players than the Magic do, but I don’t see them faring much better. They lost big man Greg Monroe to the Bucks in free agency and will turn the paint completely over to Andre Drummond. The 22-year-old averaged 13.8 points and 13.5 rebounds last season while starting all 82 games. Those numbers should increase with Monroe (and his 18 points and 12 boards a game) now in Milwaukee.

Point guard Reggie Jackson came over from the Thunder late last season and averaged 17.6 points and 9.2 assists in 27 games with Detroit. He and Brandon Jennings could prove to be a potent combination in the backcourt once the latter returns to the lineup. He’s currently recovering from a torn Achilles and is projected to be back to live game action around Christmas.

Coach Stan Van Gundy had some very successful years in Orlando with Dwight Howard as his anchor. He will look to Drummond to play a similar role, dominating the paint on the defensive end while also being a consistent offensive threat. It’s a lot to ask of a player still so young, but the Pistons have clearly gone all in on Drummond by letting Monroe leave. We’ll find out this year if they made the right call. Detroit finished 32-50 last season and could see that win total increase by a few. Having Jennings out for at least the first two months of the season really hurts though. Jackson handled his starting duties well in his time with the team last year, but his ability to lead Detroit for a full season is another question to be answered.

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